By David Brooks.
For many years now I’ve had on on-going love for the films of American director John Waters. One of the things I like best about Waters’ films (the earlier ones in particular) is the “family” of actors that he used. You would see them again and again, film after film and their performances were absolutely wonderful. Who can forget Divine in Pink Flamingos or David Lochary in Female Trouble (“Say it! Say ‘liquid eyeliner’!!!”)?
For me, one of the greatest of them all has to be the beautiful Cookie Mueller. From her first appearance in Multiple Maniacs to her last in Polyester, Cookie steals every scene she’s in. There’s something bizarre and yet strangely intriguing about a lot of the dialogue in John Waters’ movies and Cookie carries it off as though she was born for it. For many of her roles you don’t really think that she’s playing a character–she’s just playing herself: the wild and fabulous Cookie Mueller.
In Multiple Maniacs Cookie plays Lady Divine’s free-wheeling daughter (“Cookie”). She’s determined to have as much fun as she can and she does–much like the real Cookie Mueller. The scene where she’s lying with her boyfriend (played by Paul Swift–the unforgettable “Eggman” from Pink Flamingos) is a classic. Cookie lies topless on the floor, nuzzled up next to her new beau while smoking a joint. Sadly, her character doesn’t meet a very happy ending, but how many people in John Waters movies do?
In Pink Flamingos Cookie once again plays “Cookie”–this time as a spy for the “two jealous perverts”: Connie and Raymond Marble. Again, there’s something so strange and wonderful about John Waters’ dialogue that each line seems like a cultural sound byte. For example, how about when Cookie is offered a sandwich by the Marbles:
“I could go for a sandwich. Mmmm . . . BALONEY!”
It’s hard to describe, really. There’s something about this strange, strange dialogue delivered in Cookie’s unforgettable Baltimore accent that makes the whole scene a classic.
John Waters would often talk about what a professional Divine was, given that she would even eat dog shit for her director. But let’s give credit where credit is due. What about Cookie and the incredible “chicken fuck” scene? It’s hard to imagine what Cookie had to go through while filming that scene. Hey, we all feel sorry for the chickens, but poor Cookie! It’s amazing that she ever spoke to Waters again. But, of course I’m probably way off base here. Cookie was a consummate professional in her craft–she knew what was required of her and she gave an outstanding performance.
In John Waters’ next film, Female Trouble, Cookie shines as the juvenile delinquent “Consetta.” Cookie herself said that she greatly admired the “bad girls” in high school. She discussed one in particular who wore tons of black eyeliner and had little hair curls near her ears flattened down to her face with clear nail polish. In Female Trouble Cookie actually becomes this “awful, cheap girl” and it’s clear that she loves every minute of it. Again, with the exception of Divine and Lochary, no one can pull of Waters’ dialogue like Cookie Mueller. Who can say why certain lines appeal to you? It’s all very subjective, but a favourite of mine has always been:
Consetta (threateningly, through gritted teeth): “I got a knife in my pocketbook and I’m gonna cut you up after class.”
It’s just one line, but there’s something absolutely hilarious and wonderful about the intensity with which Cookie delivers it. In Citizen Kane Mr. Bernstein says that a month doesn’t go by when he doesn’t think of “the girl with the white parasol.” Well, for me a week doesn’t go by when I don’t think of that line by Cookie Mueller.
When it comes to John Waters movies, Cookie was, in a word, the best.
Cookie was an incredible writer to say nothing of a fine actress. She seemed to live by the words “Seize the day”. Cookie lived every day as though it was her last. Cookie was a survivor.
Cookie Mueller died of AIDS on 10 November 1989. Her ashes are interred on the beach near Provincetown; in the flowerbed of the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village; alongside those of her husband, Vittorio, and her dog, Beauty, in the Scarpati family crypt in Sorrento, Italy; under the statue of Christ the Redeemer at Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro; in the South Bronx; and in the Holy Waters of the Ganges.
Be happy, Cookie, wherever you are…
Ask Dr Mueller is published by Serpent’s Tail/High Risk
First posted: Saturday, July 18th, 2009.